On My Honor
April 1979

“On My Honor,” Ensign, Apr. 1979, 2

First Presidency Message

On My Honor

An edited version of remarks delivered at Brigham Young University, 12 September 1978

My beloved brothers and sisters, I have entitled my remarks this morning “On My Honor.” Recently, a prominent Eastern visitor asked me, “Why are you, the Mormon people, such happy folks?” My answer was: “It is because we have everything—the gospel of Jesus Christ, the light, the priesthood, the power, the promises, the covenants, the temples, our families, the truth.” I intentionally included our “promises” and our “covenants” in that list of things that make us happy. May I concentrate there for just a moment? To do so, I wish to refer to two other greetings you have recently received—one from BYU President Dallin Oaks and one from Church Commissioner of Education, Jeffrey R. Holland.

I quote first from President Oak’s personal letter to you dated 6 July 1978. It was a most important letter which contained a message that must be remembered. It says in part:

“We look forward to having you as students at BYU this fall semester.

“We are proud of the high standards of scholarship, personal conduct, and appearance at Brigham Young University. We hope that all students and their parents will join in our determination to maintain these high standards.

“Each student who enrolls at BYU promises to observe all of the requirements of our code of honor, including our dress and grooming standards. We expect each student to keep his or her promise. Please examine the enclosed card and brochure so you will be thoroughly familiar with those requirements” (italics added).

And from that brochure to which President Oaks referred, I quote these remarks from Commissioner Holland:

“Those who come to a college or university within the Church Educational System enter a special environment of scholarship and student activity. That environment uniquely reflects the standards and moral commitments of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and every student makes his or her own contribution to that spirit on the campus. …

“To facilitate your understanding of our Church Education System dress and grooming standards, with which you will be expected to comply, this brochure has been prepared for you in advance of your arrival on campus. Your presence will be felt as you honor these commitments.

Those statements by your school administrators reflect the direction they have received from the Church Board of Education and the Brigham Young University Board of Trustees. They did not manufacture these ideas on their own and no amount of “lobbying” will force them to change. In these instructions to you, their own loyalty and integrity are at stake, for they are acting in behalf of the presiding authorities of the Church who direct them. Your loyalty and integrity are at stake in your willingness to abide by that counsel. You have come here “on your honor.”

Included in this material received from your school administrators was a greeting from me on this same subject. It is introduced by a phrase I suggested more than twenty-five years ago. I suggested then and I suggest again this morning that Latter-day Saints should have a “style of our own”:

“We can create a style of our own. The world has drifted a long way from the standards of cleanliness of body and soul, but we have such faith in our young people that we are certain that if they are properly advised they will always be well dressed and well groomed and free from the sins of the world. They will thus avoid the pitfalls of the adversary and retain their virtue and worthiness: ‘Forewarned is forearmed.’

“One factor contributing to immodesty and a breakdown of moral values is the modern standard of dress and grooming. We must be different. We need not do anything we do not wish to do. We can create our own style and standards. We can influence the patterns among our own people, and we can also help to develop proper community patterns.

“Some young people have prided themselves in wearing the most tattered, soiled, and grubby attire. If we dress in a shabby or sloppy manner, we tend to think and act the same way. I am positive that personal grooming and cleanliness, as well as the clothes we wear, can be tremendous factors in the standards we set and follow on the pathway to immortality and eternal life.

“It is my understanding that each student who enrolls in this great institution and its sister Church institutions understands before coming here what the rules and regulations are, and he or she signs the enrollment sheet with a firm promise to obey those rules and regulations. For a young woman to wear short skirts or other immodest wear when she has covenanted otherwise would not be a matter of cleverness in escaping detection but a definite blot on her character. Should any young man promise to observe certain standards of dress or hair length or behavior and then evade those restrictions, certainly his error is deep-seated and is not just a difference of opinion. It is nothing to joke about, but a black mark on his character.

“‘He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.’”

Please note that I have used the word covenant regarding the promises you made when registering at the university. That’s a sacred word and I use it with all of its special spiritual force. I realize that you may not agree fully with our code for dress and behavior. Perhaps you do not agree with it at all. You may think it old-fashioned or unnecessary or bothersome, but the simple fact of the matter is that the code exists under the direction of those responsible for the university and you have promised “on your honor” to abide by that standard.

Please do not misunderstand. We have provided this school so that it may be enjoyed. We are delighted you are here. But please remember that there is no compulsion for you to come and you have done so voluntarily. The terms under which you have registered are definite and firm. There is no forum for argument or appeal about the personal standards we expect you to maintain. Those have been stated and you have agreed “on your honor” to abide by them. We have every confidence that you will.

We realize that there are many other universities in the land, some of which have far less stringent regulations. It may be that their location, their faculty, their courses, their leadership are more agreeable to you and that you would be happier there—but we would hope not. In any case, since you have pledged on your honor to attend this school under the standards we have predetermined, it would be most untrue of you to accept the Church’s heavy financial support of more than two-thirds of your education and then default through unfaithfulness.

If I could not agree with the rules, I would hand back my registration slip and say, “No, thank you. Since I cannot agree and since I do not intend to live the rules, therefore, I will not pledge something that I will not do.” Or I would say, “I have decided to dress immodestly or wear my hair inappropriately; therefore, I will find a school which will accept my standards.” Or I would say, “I will not keep the law of chastity or the Word of Wisdom or some other commandment of God; therefore, I will seek a school which does not require me to so pledge. I will not enroll. I will not sign to do one thing and then do another.” That is what my integrity would make me say if those were my feelings.

Sister Kimball and I have eaten at restaurants where it was required of the men to wear a coat and tie. And in those circumstances I say to myself, “If we wish to eat in this restaurant, I will keep my end of the bargain; I will wear a coat and tie.” If I were uncomfortable with the rule, I could go to another restaurant where there is no such restriction or I could even go without a meal altogether. But I promise you I would not bolt through the door tieless and demand to be served. Furthermore, and far more seriously, I would not put on a tie at the door, find myself pleasantly and courteously seated, only then to tear off my tie and coat and defy the waiter to eject me. Why would I not do such a thing? Because my honor and my dignity and my integrity are more important to me than any meal, however splendid the banquet. If they ask me to wear a tie, I will wear a tie, or refuse—on my honor—to enter. I invite you to exercise your integrity in the same way on this campus, in dress, in dignity, in manners and morals. These have been clearly stated and by these you are honor bound to abide. Your integrity and my integrity require it.

Obviously, what we say to you here applies to Latter-day Saint students wherever they are, at home and abroad, as well as our faculty, staff, and administrators. I know one man who nearly moved heaven and earth to get a position on this faculty and then—having accepted the position, the salary, the requirements—he began at once fighting the rules, complaining at the salary, criticizing the leadership of the program and its philosophy. To me he was not only unfair, he was immoral—and we are opposed to immorality at this school and in its sponsoring institution, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I ask you to keep your promises, to be faithful to your covenants, to live by your standards, and to represent what the sacred tithing dollars invested in this school must always represent.

We would like you to see these standards as tools with which you can build a better self. But of course they must be respected as tools, and care should be exercised so you do not inflict unnecessary self-injury by abusing yourself against them. Many of you know the feeling of missing a nail and hitting your thumb with a hammer. Hammers were designed to drive nails, not to damage thumbs. These standards at BYU are designed to build character, to teach discipline, to symbolize propriety and restraint and honor among the students, faculty, and institution as a whole.

We would hope you would not spend your time banging your heads against these regulations. They were not designed to create dissension or to make you unhappy or angry. Please respect them as you would any tool and use them for their intended purposes. We would be disappointed to think that they would cause you undue difficulty. As the Lord said of the Word of Wisdom, these regulations, too, are “adapted to the capacity of the weak and the weakest of all saints, who are or can be called saints” (D&C 89:3). We believe everyone can live them without anxiety or hardship.

We say anew and more vigorously to all of you: Trim your hair appropriately. Wear modest, clean clothing. Your clothes don’t have to be new and the latest fashion, but they should be clean, modest, and neat. Be dignified in your outward appearance and in your manners and in your inward morality. Take pride in your principles. Tear down, as it were, any of the old sheds of the past. Repent of old transgressions and start this school year with clean hands and a pure heart, reflected by good grooming, acceptable apparel, and personal integrity.

Let me confess one of the sad disappointments I sometimes feel: The returned missionary who, after two years of taking great pride in how he looks and what he represents, returns to this campus or some other similar place to see how quickly he can let his hair grow, how fully he can develop a moustache and long sideburns and push to the very margins of appropriate grooming, how clumpy his shoes get, how tattered his clothes are, how close to being grubby he can get without being refused admittance to the school. That, my young returned missionary brethren, is one of the great disappointments in my life.

I meet with prime ministers and presidents, with sovereigns and rulers, political and public figures all over the world, and one of the things they inevitably say about us (and always with warmth and appreciation) is, “We have seen your missionaries. We’ve seen them all over the globe, in every state of the union and in most countries of the world. Without exception, they look like young men ought to look. They are clean cut, neatly dressed, well-groomed, and dignified.” My, that makes me proud! I’m trying to do my own little part in missionary work and that kind of comment makes me so proud of you. Then sometimes these great leaders say, “Your missionaries look like just the kind of young men I would want in my business, or in my government, or in my embassy, or in my law firm.” Sometimes they even say, “They look just like the young man I would like for a son-in-law.” That makes me proudest of all.

Please, you returned missionaries and all young men who can understand my concern in this matter, please do not abandon in appearance or principle or habit the great experiences of the mission field when you were like Alma and the sons of Mosiah, and where you were as the very angels of God to the people you met and taught and baptized.

We do not expect you to wear a tie, white shirt, and a dark blue suit every day now that you are back in school. But surely it is not too much to ask that your good grooming be maintained, that your personal habits reflect cleanliness and dignity and pride in the principles of the gospel you taught. We ask you, for the good of the kingdom and all those who have taken and still take pride in you, to live both the letter and the spirit of our dress and grooming and conduct codes. In the spirit of your mission commitments, I ask you to do it “on your honor.”

Like some of the very sophisticated recording equipment I hear in your rooms, we not only need fidelity at this university, we need high fidelity. We need great faith on your part, for we live in a time of temptation and opposition. Allegiance to the straight and narrow path of Christ is crucial, and it has implications for you far beyond a dress and grooming code or a stated paragraph of moral behavior. We live in a day when our allegiance is being sorely tested. Satan is succeeding too well in many places, and he succeeds when he entices any person to excuse himself in wrong doing. Almost all dishonesty owes its existence and growth to that inward distortion we call self-justification. It is the first, and worst, and most insidious form of cheating: We are cheating ourselves.

When Jesus appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus as he fought against the truth, the resurrected Savior made this telling observation. To Paul he said: “It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks” (Acts 9:5; italics added). Note who is hurt: Not the principles, not the truth, not the Church, not even the Christians who were his opposition. Finally, ultimately, it was Paul being hurt.

In a latter-day revelation the Lord explains that the same thing is true of us whenever we “undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, [or] our vain ambition.” Then “the heavens withdraw themselves; the spirit of the Lord is grieved” (D&C 121:37). Before we are aware, we, too, are left “to kick against the pricks,” to persecute the Saints, to fight against God. And, like Paul, unless we repent, it will be hard on any of us when we do battle against the truth.

Brigham Young University is designed to enlarge and develop the powers of the spirit and to educate you for eternity. Here you have the privilege of preparing yourself for life’s vocation and at the same time combining theory and practice in preparation for eternal life. Here you prepare to make a living, but more important still, you prepare to live toward perfection, toward exaltation and godhood.

This institution has no justification for its existence unless it builds character, creates and develops faith, and makes men and women of strength and courage, fortitude, and service—men and women who will become stalwarts in the kingdom and bear witness of the restoration and the divinity of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is not justified on an academic basis only, for your parents pay taxes to support state institutions to which you are eligible in every state of the Union and most foreign countries. This institution has been established by a prophet of God for a very specific purpose: to combine spiritual and moral values with secular education.

Keep your promises. Maintain your integrity. Abide by your covenants. Give the Lord this year and every year your high fidelity and fullest expression of faith. Do it “on your honor” and you will be blessed now and forever. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Photography by Eric W. White